Play It Safe

differentiationMay seem like a sensible idea.

Especially your competitors market their products or services in the same way.

A larger company I worked for many years ago used this approach with one of their brands.

It was the market leader and the communication, packaging, pricing etc was always on the safe side.

All other brands followed until one day a new competitor decided to shake things up.

Communication was very different, the packaging was certainly different and slight changes were made to the product.

A few years later, the brand was the market leader and the other brand became the follower.


If you are looking to grow your business then taking calculated risks is worth looking at.

Whether you want to acknowledge competitors or not your customers are comparing when they make purchase decisions.

If all brands in your market are playing it safe and copying each other it makes the purchase process more complicated.

And often leads to price playing a larger role than it should.


Compare your products or services against them and look at all marketing elements.

This includes your pricing, service delivery, customer service, packaging and positioning.

If your products or services and competitors are all the same this provides an opportunity to see how you can break from the pack.

It doesn’t have to be a large change or changing all elements at once.

It means based on your understanding of your market and customers seeing what you can test to differentiate your products or services.

If you don’t then the odds are another business will.

They will see the opportunity not to follow everyone else to grow their business.

History has shown that there will always be one business to break from the norm and gain a competitive advantage.

Being a small business owner gives you the freedom that larger businesses do not have.

In many ways the only restriction is your imagination and the ones you put on your business.

Playing it safe may feel comfortable now but it is a tough way to grow a profitable business.

Your thoughts?


26 Responses to Play It Safe

  1. This is such a great reminder for all of us. I’ve seen so many people jump in the bandwagon, starting a business just because they see how popular it is, only to find themselves failing. Taking time to really check and study every single aspect before setting up a business, whether the traditional type or something online, will save a lot of people from a lot of heartaches in the end.

    • Hi Adeline,

      Great point about doing research etc beforehand as it can save heartache. It might also show a better opportunity.

      Thanks for your comments Adeline.

  2. Susan,
    This is a great reminder that we need to differentiate ourselves in some way to stand out. (I appreciate that you chose a photo of sheep for this article.)

    When you said “Being a small business owner gives you the freedom that larger businesses do not have.”, I sat up in my chair. You’re right! I don’t need to ask anyone permission before I try something new. You know that I’ve been wanting to update my blog pages (to better represent what I can do for a client). I just realized that I’ve been spending too much time trying to figure out how other people are doing this. I just need to not be a sheep! Thanks Susan.

    • Hi Sherryl,

      Maybe you were waiting to give yourself permission 🙂

      Would never think of you as a sheep and your example trying to figure out how others do it is something I think many small business owners do.

      Go for it Sherryl and I am sure what you do will be just right for your business and customers.

  3. Excellent information. Your site definitely explains essential concepts to its readers. Thanks for continuing to write such wonderful articles.

  4. Susan — It’s scary to take risks. I just wrote a blog for a client about how important it is for individuals and not only companies to take risks to get ahead. In fact, individuals within companies need to become intrapreneurs — their own boss — to manage their careers by overcoming their fear of taking risks. It’s the only way for an individual or a company to move ahead.

    • Hi Jeannette,

      It is when you first do it and the next time gets easier I think. That is a great point about individuals in companies and when companies encourage it progress does get made. Perhaps instead of the word risk is to think of it as taking the initiative.

  5. Small companies can make the social media work without spending a lot of money. Twitter, Facebook page, blogs are all free. I found that, if I am using twitter everyday to promote my listings on Etsy,(BinduDesigns)I am getting more views. But, still can’t figure out why the views are not turning in to sales.

    • Hi Bindhurani,

      That can be frustrating can’t it? have you looked at your twitter list to see if those who follow you are likely buyers of your products?

  6. I think the bigger the company sometimes the more complacent they get with their strategy. Assuming that if they control the market, they will always control the market.

    There’s been quite a few larger names suffer in recent years due to just this kind of thinking.

    Small business in my opinion is generally hungrier and more willing to take risks, plus change is quicker to implement.

    There’s an element of risk in everything that you do, even copying existing brands successes. So why not take your own route…thats my philosophy 😉

    Its a thought provoking post. Thanks Susan.

    • Hi Jackie,

      They can get complacent especially if they have been the market leader for a long time.

      I agree with you in some ways regarding small business but I think many have become quite risk adverse in recent years and are just following what others say you should do.

      Totally agree with you about taking your own route especially if you want to grow your business. Like your philosophy 🙂

  7. Hi Susan I’ve always been a fan of going against the new and finding ways to stand out. I think it’s important to be aware of the industry standards, but I think uniqueness has it’s own benefits. Thanks for the informative article.

    • Hi Carlo,

      Welcome to the blog. Good point about being aware of industry standards as that also gives you a starting place to see how you can differentiate.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Carlo.

        • I wouldn’t worry about spelling mistakes Carlo as I make many. In fact in the first sentence I had one until someone gave me a typo alert 🙂 Just fixed yours up and about to head over to look at your website.

  8. Sounds good – the idea of taking risks. But which risks to take, and which are too risky? Your ideas leave me with more questions, I’m afraid.

    • Hi Leora,

      There is no one answer as it depends on a number of factors and crunching numbers. If you want to email any questions please feel free.

  9. How you decide to differentiate yourself will also depend upon the market perception. I recall reading that a detergent company which was selling in the MiddleEast had to super size its packets, because they loved BIG SIZES.
    On the other hand, in rural India small satches of shampoo which are more affordable sell like hot cakes.
    So sometimes standing out, can also mean sizing differently.

  10. It’s so easy to stay in what appears to be a safe place. However by doing so it may in fact put a business and it’s owner at a greater risk. Looking for ways to “break from the norm” will give us ideas to help gain that ever illusive competitive advantage. Just my thoughts at the moment. 🙂

    • Hi Susan,

      I agree with your great thoughts as it can put companies at risk. The brand I mentioned was the the biggest profit earner for the company so losing sales had a direct hit to the bottom line.

  11. Amazing that you should write about this phenomena because I was thinking about it. One Swedish multinational is the market leader and behaves just like the company you describe.

    They know they should develop social media but doesn’t want to spend money on doing so until a comptitor start using social media. Am sure they will lose customers to the competitor that conquers social media.

  12. I don’t think you can play it overly safe today. You almost have to stand up and stand out, in a good way, to be noticed. I agree that it doesn’t have to be large or everything all at once. Change one thing, see if it helps, then change another, and another, until you get more of the results you want.

    Thanks Susan

    Patricia Weber, LinkedIn Group BHB

    • Hi Pat,

      Even large companies today don’t do it all at once, probably because everything is moving so fast. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.